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      John Mulligan, RMT/CLT-LANA

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What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a permanent condition of chronic swelling, usually of an arm or a leg. This swelling is a result of damage to the lymph system. The damage may be the result of cancer treatment, other trauma or it could be genetic in origin. The condition of lymphedema is permanent. However, the symptoms of lymphedema respond to treatment and the condition is manageable. With proper treatment, lymphedema does not have to result in disfiguring swelling or dangerous infections. Treatment of lymphedema consists of a gentle form of massage called manual lymph drainage, combined with compression therapy. This effective, clinically proven treatment uses no drugs, has no side effects and can be learned by the patient for home-based management of the condition.

Any surgery which requires lymph node removal puts the patient at risk for development of lymphedema. In the treatment of breast cancer the risk of developing lymphedema as a side-effect runs from 25% to a little over 40% depending on the type of surgery required and other treatment factors. *

*from "Lymphedema Diagnosis and Therapy," Weissledder/Schuchardt, 1997.

 

 

 

What are the signs and symptoms of the onset of lymphedema?

Swelling: Swelling of the at-risk limb (the limb on the same side of the body as the cancer) will be mild at first, and may appear as a tightness of the skin. The swelling could appear first in the ankle or hand and gradually extend up the leg or arm.

Even though the swelling may seem to go away at first, do not ignore it!

Redness: The appearance of rashes, redness or heat in the at-risk limb is a common symptom. The most common complication of lymphedema is infection.

Achiness and heaviness in the limb: This feeling may precede any other symptoms, including swelling. When this is the case it is called pre-clinical lymphedema.


Do not ignore the signs of lymphedema.

Contact your physician immediately if you have these symptoms.

 


If you have had lymph nodes removed as part of cancer treatment, or have had more radical surgery, you may be concerned about developing lymphedema. This is a legitimate concern. There are steps you can take to minimize the impact of this condition on your life.

If you are already experiencing lymphedema, you should know that it is both treatable and manageable. Great strides in lymphedema treatment have been made in recent years, and you should be benefiting from the advances made in this field.

Please contact me for more information if you are suffering from this condition.

 

The treatment of lymphedema consists of a gentle form of massage called manual lymph drainage. In between daily massages compression bandaging is applied to reduce the volume of liquid and excess proteins in the limb. This effective, proven treatment uses no drugs, has no side effects, and a modified version can be learned by the patient for home use. It is usually reasonable to expect that, over a period of time, a swollen limb will be reduced to a size and shape that is near normal.

 


Is Lymphedema Preventable?

If you have had lymph nodes removed, you are at risk for the development of lymphedema. While it is impossible to predict whether you will develop lymphedema, it is possible to take steps to minimize the chances of developing it, or delay the onset. Getting precise measurements of the at-risk limb prior to the onset of any swelling will enable you and your therapist to detect swelling as early as possible. This will allow you to get treatment in the early stage of lymphedema, simplifying the treatment process and shortening the course of intensive therapy. Also, a course of manual lymph drainage therapy applied after surgery will assist in the development of collateral lymphatic circulation, possibly preventing the onset of lymphedema entirely.

 

After any trauma, transient (temporary) swelling is normal. If this swelling persists longer than six weeks, it may be considered problematic. If the swelling responds to finger-pressure by maintaining a "dent" for more than 30 seconds, you should have the swelling assessed by a manual lymph drainage therapist.

After most surgeries, regaining range of motion as soon as possible is important. For example, after knee replacement surgery range of motion exercises commence shortly after surgery. Quick resolution of swelling is desirable even before the swelling becomes problematic. After breast cancer surgery, range of motion exercises should also commence as soon as possible.

Following liposuction or cosmetic surgery, a course of manual lymph drainage will reduce post-surgical swelling, decrease healing time and prevent swelling from becoming problematic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click to see examples of before & after treatment

 

 

 

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